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Last updated: December 2020

[Security situation 2020, 1.1.1; State structure, 1.1]

The 'Saur' Revolution and the Khalq Regime (1978-1979)

The year 1978 was a turning point in Afghan history. The Khalq faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), led by Nur Mohammed Taraki overthrew the government of President Muhammad Daud Khan. This event is known as the Saur Revolution executed by the PDPA.

The Khalqi government’s non-Islamist ideology and its use of violence against opponents and some ethnic minorities led to armed resistance in the countryside. Arrests, torture, and executions caused many Afghans to flee the country. These events led to the creation of the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. The armed uprising was uncoordinated, but widespread. In October 1979, Taraki was overthrown by his deputy Amin and murdered [Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.1].

The Soviet Afghan War (1979-1989)

In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, occupied its territory, and installed Babrak Karmal as president. The invasion was followed by a decade of armed conflict between the Afghan government, supported by Soviet troops, and armed opposition groups. The resistance became a jihad against ‘infidel invaders’ and ‘the puppet government’, uniting different armed factions, called the mujahideen. Typical mujahideen military operations were focused on hit-and-run tactics and ambushes, including shelling government targets, sabotage of infrastructure, assassinations, and rocket attacks on both civilian and military targets. The common mujahideen practice of taking shelter in and launching attacks from villages placed civilians directly in the crossfire [Security situation 2020, 1.1.1; Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.1].

The Afghan government and Russian troops were in control of the cities while the rural and mountainous areas were inflamed by the insurgency. Soviet and government forces employed brutal tactics considered as direct violations of international law. Common tactics included launching airstrikes on civilian areas, laying mines in rural areas to cut off resistance transport and supply routes, and conducting violent raids on villages suspected of harbouring mujahideen. Suspected ‘collaborators’ were detained and often tortured and/or disappeared [Security situation 2020, 1.1.1; Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.1].

In May 1986, Dr Najibullah, head of KhAD, became general secretary of the PDPA and replaced Karmal in November 1986 as President of the Revolutionary Council. In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan [Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.1].

The conflict between the Afghan Government and the Mujahideen Forces (1989-1992) and the Afghan Civil War (1992-1996)

After the resignation of Najibullah (18 April 1992), a period referred to as ‘Civil war’ saw different mujahideen groups making alliances, largely based on region and ethnicity. Tajiks and Uzbeks in the north, Hazaras in the centre, and Pashtuns in the east and south, formed competing factions. The competing factions engaged in bloody street battles in Kabul and rockets stroke in the quarters of the city. War between the competing mujahideen factions and militias was characterised by severe human rights violations, including executions, abduction, imprisonment, sexual violence and other forms of torture, were committed by all factions [Security situation 2020, 1.1.1; Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.2].

The Taliban Regime (1996-2001)

The founders of the Taliban were religious clerics who fought in the different mujahideen factions. In 1994, these clerics came together and agreed on taking action in relation to the significant discontent about the Rabbani government, the roadblocks, insecurity, and abuses caused by the militias and commanders. The clerics formed the Taliban movement under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. During the chaos of the civil war, the Taliban took control of Kandahar City. They brought stability in areas under their control, which won them support from segments of the population. They soon gained control of more areas and conquered Kabul in 1996.

The Taliban governed Afghanistan with a religious ideology based on Salafism and Pashtunwali. Their repressive policies resulted in increased poverty, widespread human rights abuses, ethnic persecution and killings and continued displacement and refugee movement into Pakistan, Iran and other neighbouring countries [Security situation 2020, 1.1.1; Taliban strategies – Recruitment, 1.2].